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Fiber Protector, Do You Need Them, Are They Safe?

Updated: 7 days ago


In recent years, Some consumers have been questioning fiber protector treatments and hitting us with hard questions, scrutinizing the safety and environmental impact of fiber protectors and soil retardants. This article offers a deeper look at fiber protectors and soil retardants, what they are, how they work, whether they are right for you, and why they might be the right or wrong choice for your fabric care regimen.



Are soil fabric treatments safe
soil repelants

Key Takeaways

  • Fiber protector treatments use chemicals like silicates, PTFE, and acrylic polymers to create an invisible, protective barrier on textiles, reducing dirt buildup and easing cleaning while preserving material integrity.

  • Soil retardants may provide numerous benefits such as simplifying stain removal, extending fabric life, and protecting against UV damage, they also come with health and environmental concerns due to the presence of potentially harmful PFAS substances.

  • Maintenance of soil-retardant-treated textiles is crucial to prolong their effectiveness, and products are evolving away from harmful chemicals like PFOA, with regular cleaning and reapplication recommended to maintain performance.



History of Soil Retardants

It all started with fire retardants and attempts to reduce the flammable nature of some fabrics, such as synthetics, cotton, and rayon—the application of a chemical to reduce their flammability. Flame retardants work by inhibiting or suppressing the chemical reaction of fires or by reacting with heat and fire to form a protective layer on the surface of a material that inhibits fire. Textile engineers realized that this technology could be expanded to inhibit mold, mildew, viruses, and bacteria and reduce the harmful effects of UV light and soiling. 


The Science of Soil Retardants

Have you ever wondered how some fabrics seem to easily repel stains while others succumb to every drop of wine or crumbs of food? Some fibers have natural soil repellency; the surface properties of the fiber inherently resist staining. Often, it's a combination of factors such as the natural properties inherent in a fiber and textile auxiliary treatment used in textile production.


Perhaps the best way to understand soil retardants and fiber protectors is to think of them as waterproofing treatments. Soil retardants are chemical treatments that cover the surfaces of fibers with an invisible barrier. Products like Fiber Seal® and Fiber ProTector® reduce dirt and grime's ability to be easily absorbed by the fibers of carpets, rugs, and upholstery and help textiles maintain beauty and integrity.


This barrier reduces the immediate soil absorption of spills, particularly liquid spills such as wine, and allows for quicker removal if addressed in a timely manner.



wine spill on Oriental rug
wine spill on a rug

The Chemistry Behind Stain Resistance

The stain resistance of soil retardants owes much to the strategic use of silicates acrylic polymers and PTFE. These components form a repellant layer against liquids, effectively preventing dirt from absorbing or bonding to fibers with the material's surface. Acrylic polymers, in particular, bolster the durability of this protective coating, ensuring the material's appearance by resisting stains.


The finish left behind by soil retardants:

  • Practically invisible to the naked eye

  • Imperceptible to the touch

  • Helps protect against soiling and staining

  • Can help materials stay cleaner between routine cleaning

  • Reduce the chance of permanent stains and discolorations

  • Chemically inert armor that bestows non-stick properties onto your most cherished fabrics and surfaces.


Application Across Materials


More than just area rugs, Fiber ProTector treatments range of household items including wall-to-wall carpets, upholstered furniture, and even the delicate weaves of organic textiles that are naturally prone to staining.


Sain Shields' application extends to a wide variety of commercial environments, using natural and synthetic fiber materials. This makes them common in commercial environments such as luxury hotels and aircraft interiors, far beyond the cozy confines of our homes. In the hospitality sector, for instance, carpets enriched with soil retardants reduce and repel stain-causing red wine and food spills.



The Advantages of Using Soil Retardants

The perks of soil retardants are they make the clean-up of accidental spills a breeze when caught early. Many fiber-protecting products have UV (ultraviolet light) protection components and shield fibers from powerful UV in sunlight, reducing the sun's bleaching effects.

Longevity is another textile treated with these solutions that keep textiles looking better for longer.


fiber protector being sprayed
Fiber protector aplication

Nothing comes without a cost, Soil Retardants: The Downside.

Yet, for all their allure, one can't help but ponder—do we really need another chemical lurking in our homes and offices? After all, many a treasured antique rug has stood the test of time without modern interventions.


After all, cleanliness has less to do with chemical barriers and more with the age-old practice of regular upkeep, such as vacuuming and timely cleaning, and soil retardants are no substitute. 


Safety and Environmental Considerations

It's crucial to consider their safety and environmental footprint. PFAS substances, which may be present in many soil retardants, are known for their persistence in the environment and have been loosly linked to a myriad of health risks.


PFAS Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances are a diverse group of chemicals used in hundreds of types of products.


Despite this, the FDA has determined that the use of authorized PFAS in consumer products, including cookware, does not pose a safety concern.


Still, the environmental contamination wrought by these chemicals is undeniable, with PFAS polluting air, water, and soil across the globe. It's a complex issue that demands our attention, as the long-term implications of PFAS environmental exposure for both the planet and public health remain a topic of considerable debate. Some of these PFAS chemicals are considered forever chemicals and do not break down or biodegrade in the environment.


Peeling back the layers of health concerns, we find that PFAS exposure is not without possible consequences. Soil retardants containing PFOA, Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and perfluorinated alkylated substances, a type of PFAS, have been associated with serious health conditions. Including chronic kidney disease, thyroid disorders, liver disease, and even cancer. The insidious nature of these chemicals means they can interfere with metabolism, childhood obesity, and the immune system's ability to ward off infections.


But the risk doesn't end there. PFOS and PFOA, for example, are notorious for suppressing antibody responses, posing a grave hazard to immune system function. From delayed puberty to increased diabetes risk, the health effects of PFAS are far-reaching and troubling, including the potential for polymer fume fever. It's a sobering reminder of the potential costs of convenience when it comes to chemical treatments.


All that said, there isn't a clear picture of what risk these products pose when applied to fabrics and textiles in your home at low concentrations.


The Environmental Impact of Soil Retardants

As stated already, PFAS can accumulate in the environment over time due to their longevity, complicating efforts to mitigate their impact. They're found everywhere—from wastewater treatment plants to the blood of 98% of Americans, illustrating a widespread exposure that transcends borders and populations.


Moreover, the scrutiny of perfluorocarbon-based finishes, which include some soil retardants, is intensifying as we become more aware of their potential to harm ecosystems and human health due to the presence of corrosive chemicals, such as perfluorooctanoic acid. It's a stark reminder that the substances we use to protect our belongings can have far-reaching effects beyond the confines of our homes and offices.


Beyond Soil Retardance: the Wounderof Teflon

Teflon's prowess extends far beyond soil retardance. Its stable performance across a wide temperature range and high resistance to chemicals make it a go-to choice for:


  • Waterproofing applications

  • Fire-resistant applications

  • Components that must endure exposure to harsh chemicals, such as hose assemblies and expansion joints

  • Household plumbing

  • Medical uses


Its non-reactivity, tolerance for high temperatures, and melting point render it ideal for modern use. The unique properties of Teflon or PTFE Polytetrafluoroethylene, a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluoroethylene. products to serve critical functions in industries where safety and durability are paramount.


From the aerospace sector to automotive manufacturing, Teflon's contribution to waterproofing and fire resistance is a testament to the multifaceted utility of these chemical treatments.


The Shift Away from PFOA

Amidst health concerns, the industry has been steering away from PFOA. To address these concerns, Teflon in the U.S. is now produced without PFOA, marking a significant shift towards safer chemicals in terms of breaking down in the environment. The introduction of alternative surfactants like GenX is part of this transition, offering a less controversial method for synthesizing PTFE.


This evolution in the industry represents a proactive approach to consumer safety and environmental stewardship, especially when it comes to forever chemicals. As we move forward, industry and watchdog groups continue to scrutinize and refine the manufacturing process of the chemicals we rely on, ensuring they meet the highest standards of health and environmental protection.


Maintenance Tips for Treated Textiles

Maintaining the effectiveness of soil retardant treatments is a matter of routine and care. Regular cleaning is essential to prolong the life and function of treated textiles, preventing them from becoming breeding grounds for bacteria. Typically, reapplication is required with fiber protection products after cleaning to ensure good performance.


Adhering to specific cleaning protocols for treated textiles is also crucial. Such guidelines are designed to safeguard the integrity of soil retardants, ensuring that the fabrics continue to repel stains and soil with the same vigor as the day they were first treated.


Knowing when to reapply soil retardant treatments is key to preserving their functionality. If routine cleaning begins to falter in its ability to keep stains at bay, it may signal that the treatment's potency is waning. Such a change in performance is a clear indicator that it's time to consider a fresh application of the soil retardant to restore its protective barrier.

By staying attuned to the condition of treated textiles and responding with timely reapplication, you can ensure that your fabrics continue to resist wear and maintain their aesthetic appeal. It's a proactive approach that can significantly extend the life of your textiles. Using a dry cloth for gentle cleaning can help maintain their appearance.


Protecting Everyday Living Spaces

For homeowners seeking to defend their domestic havens against the onslaught of stains, soil retardants offer a robust line of defense. It's a simple measure that can preserve the integrity and appearance of textiles that are integral to our day-to-day comfort. They are one example of how modern chemistry can enhance our living spaces without compromising on style or safety.


Summary

Fiber protectors are here to stay; they have a range of performances beneficial to many, yet concerns linger about the environmental exposure of such chemicals. We've discovered their remarkable ability to protect our cherished textiles from the inevitable accidents of life; this comes at a price. Manufacturers add Teflon and PTFE to a finished product or industrial production of feedstocks.


Exposure is at low levels, but it's everywhere, from your nonstick cookware to industrial manufacturers' products like pipes, waterproof treatments as part of industrial finishes, and manufacturers applying coatings to retail goods, clothes, carpets, and cookware. As such, they are in our enviroment and pose potential health and environmental concerns that are starting to associate these chemicals with long-term exposure to polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. 


At Renaissance, we have chosen not to advocate or provide such fiber treatments for several reasons:


  • First, our exposure to this product would be much higher than that of the average consumer. The health and welfare of my staff is not for sale or at the beckon of added-on sale for soil treatments.


  • We work hard to clean rugs, and we do not use chemicals such as soil retardants and deodorizers on clients' rugs.


  • Soil treatments do not offset the need for timely cleaning and are often oversold as a cure-all for spills. To some degree, this drives neglect. Pet urine left on a rug for too long will damage the dyes on the rug. Soil-resistant treatment is just as bad as a rug with none.


We refer clients to several local companies that provide do. Fiber ProTector® provided by Atiyeh Brothers or Fiber Seal for such treatments.


Frequently Asked Questions


What exactly do soil retardants do to protect textiles?

Soil retardants create a barrier on textiles to prevent soils and spills from penetrating, making cleaning easier and extending the life of the textiles, In particular liquid spills. These products do not stop textiles from getting dirty or soiled.


Are soil retardants safe for use in homes and commercial environments?

Soil retardants containing authorized PFAS substances have been deemed safe for consumer products by the FDA, but ongoing research is important to address potential health and environmental concerns and health conditions. Be cautious and stay informed about the latest findings on PFAS substances.


Can soil retardants be applied to any type of textile?

Yes, soil retardants can be applied to a wide variety of materials, including carpets, upholstery, and curtains, providing protection from stains and dirt.


How often should soil retardant treatments be reapplied?

You should consider reapplying soil retardant treatments when routine cleaning doesn't maintain the desired level of stain resistance on the textiles. The timing of reapplication depends on the amount of traffic and spills the textile is exposed to, so be attentive to changes in stain resistance.


What is the difference between soil retardants and other chemical treatments like Teflon?

Soil retardants are designed to prevent soil and dirt from sticking to fabrics. Teflon has a broader range of applications beyond fabric protection, such as nonstick cookware, medical, plumbing, and lubricants.

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